They received him with perfect politeness. Thus introduced, and ashe was not one to let the grass grow under his feet, he soonobtained a footing as friend of the family, which, being now advisedby Josephine, he took care not to compromise by making lbittorrent yify clientove to Rosebefore the baroness. However, he insisted on placing his financialtalent at their service. He surveyed and valued their lands, andsoon discovered that all their farms were grossly underlet. Luckilymost of the leases were run out. He prepared a new rent roll, andshowed it Aubertin, now his fast friend. Aubertin at his requestobtained a list of the mortgages, and Edouard drew a balance-sheetfounded on sure data, and proved to the baroness that in able handsthe said estate was now solvent.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, in gushing tones, "there's nothing to equal the strong arms of a man."uniswap fee priceHe hastily lifted out her daughter, and said, "You had getter hurry in to the fire. I'll be back in a few minutes," and he led his horses down to the barn, blanketed and tied them. When he returned, he saw two dusky figures standing by the front door which led to the little hall separating the kitchen from the parlor.
"Bless me!" he exclaimed. "You haven't been standing here all this time?""It's merely due to a little oversight. The door is locked, you see, and--""But the kitchen door is not locked.""Well, it didn't seem quite natural for us to enter the dwelling, on the occasion of our first arrival, by the kitchen entrance, and--"Holcroft, with a grim look, strode through the kitchen and unlocked the door.
"Ah!" exclaimed the widow. "I feel as if I was coming home. Enter, Jane, my dear. I'm sure the place will soon cease to be strange to you, for the home feeling is rapidly acquired when--""Just wait a minute, please," said Holcroft, "and I'll light the lamp and a candle." This he did with the deftness of a man accustomed to help himself, then led the way to the upper room which was to be her sleeping apartment. Placing the candle on the bureau, he forestalled Mrs. Mumpson by saying, "I'll freshen up the fire in the kitchen and lay out the ham, eggs, coffee, and other materials for supper. Then I must go out and unharness and do my night work. Make yourselves to home. You'll soon be able to find everything," and he hastened away.When Alida Armstrong--for that was her maiden name--carried her own and her mother's work to and from the shops, she often encountered admiring glances. She was not exactly pretty, but she had the good, refined face which is often more attractive than the merely pretty one, and she possessed a trim, rounded figure which she knew how to clothe with taste from the simplest and most inexpensive materials. Nor did she seek to dress above her station. When passing along the street, any discerning person would recognize that she was a working girl; only the superficial would look upon her as a common-place girl. There was something in her modest air and graceful, elastic carriage which suggested the thought to many observers, "She has seen better days."
The memory of these days, which had promised immunity from wearing toil, anxiety, and poverty, was a barrier between the two women and their present world. Death had bereft them of husband, father, and such property as he had left had been lost in a bad investment. Learning that they were almost penniless, they had patiently set about earning honest bread. This they had succeeded in doing as long as the mother kept her usual health. But the infirmities of age were creeping upon her. One winter she took a heavy cold and was very ill. She rallied only temporarily in the milder days of spring. In the summer's heat her strength failed, and she died.During her mother's long illness Alida was devotion itself. The strain upon her was severe indeed, for she not only had to earn food for both, but there were also doctor's bills, medicines, and delicacies to pay for. The poor girl grew thin from work by day, watching by night, and from fear and anxiety at all times. Their scanty savings were exhausted; articles were sold from their rooms; the few precious heirlooms of silver and china were disposed of; Alida even denied herself the food she needed rather than ask for help or permit her mother to want for anything which ministered to their vain hopes of renewed health.What she should have done she scarcely knew, had not an unexpected friend interested himself in her behalf. In one of the men's clothing stores was a cutter from whom she obtained work. Soon after he appeared in this shop he began to manifest signs of interest in her He was about her own age, he had a good trade, and she often wondered why he appeared so reticent and moody, as compared with others in similar positions. But he always spoke kindly to her, and when her mother's illness first developed, he showed all the leniency permitted to him in regard to her work. His apparent sympathy, and the need of explaining why she was not able to finish her tasks as promptly as usual, led her gradually to reveal to him the sad struggle in which she was engaged. He promised to intercede in her behalf with their mutual employers, and asked if he might come to see her mother.Recognizing how dependent she was upon this man's good will, and seeing nothing in his conduct but kindness and sympathy, she consented. His course and his words confirmed all her good impressions and awakened on her side corresponding sympathy united with a lively gratitude. He told her that he also was a stranger in the town, that he had but few acquaintances and no friends, that he had lost relatives and was in no need to go about like other young men. His manner was marked apparently by nothing more than interest and a wish to help her, and was untinged by gallantry; so they gradually became good friends. When he called Sunday afternoons the mother looked at him wistfully, in the hope that her daughter would not be left without a protector. At last the poor woman died, and Alida was in sore distress, for she had no means with which to bury her. Ostrom came and said in the kindest tones:
"You must let me lend you what you need and you can pay me back with interest, if you wish. You won't be under any obligation, for I have money lying idle in the bank. When you have only yourself to support it will not take you long to earn the sum."There seemed nothing else for her to do and so it was arranged. With tear-blinded eyes she made her simple mourning, and within a week after her mother's death was at work again, eager to repay her debt. He urged her not to hasten--to take all the rest she could while the hot weather lasted, and few evenings passed that he did not come to take her out for a walk through the quieter streets.
By this time he had won her confidence completely, and her heart overflowed with gratitude. Of course she was not so unsophisticated as not to know whither all this attention was tending, but it was a great relief to her mind that his courtship was so quiet and undemonstrative. Her heart was sore and grief-stricken, and she was not conscious of any other feeling toward him than the deepest gratitude and wish to make such return as was within her power. He was apparently very frank in regard to his past life, and nothing was said which excited her suspicions. Indeed, she felt that it would be disloyalty to think of questioning or surmising evil of one who had proved himself so true a friend in her sore need. She was therefore somewhat prepared for the words he spoke one warm September day, as they sat together in a little shaded park."Alida," he said, a little nervously, "we are both strangers and alone in this world, but surely we are no longer strangers to each other. Let us go quietly to some minister and be married. That is the best way for you to pay your debt and keep me always in debt to you."She was silent a moment, then faltered, "I'd rather pay all my debt first.""What debts can there be between husband and wife? Come now, let us look at the matter sensibly. I don't want to frighten you. Things will go on much the same. We can take quiet rooms, I will bring work to you instead of your having to go after it. It's nobody's business but our own. We've not a circle of relations to consult or invite. We can go to some parsonage, the minister's family will be the witnesses; then I'll leave you at your room as usual, and no one will be any the wiser till I've found a place where we can go to housekeeping. That won't be long, I can tell you."
He placed the matter in such a simple, natural light that she did not know how to refuse."Perhaps I do not love you as much as you ought to be loved, and deserve to be in view of all your kindness," she tried to explain. "I feel I ought to be very truthful and not deceive you in the least, as I know you would not deceive me." So strong a shiver passed through his frame that she exclaimed, "You are taking cold or you don't feel well.""Oh, it's nothing!" he said hastily, "only the night air, and then a fellow always feels a little nervous, I suppose, when he's asking for something on which his happiness depends. I'm satisfied with such feeling and good will as you have for me, and will be only too glad to get you just as you are. Come, before it is too late in the evening.""Is your heart bent on this, after what I have said, Wilson?"
"Yes, yes, indeed!" clasping her hand and drawing her to her feet."It would seem very ungrateful in me to refuse, after all you have done for me and mother, if you think it's right and best. Will you go to the minister whose church I attended, and who came to see mother?"
"Certainly, anyone you like," and he put her hand on his arm and led her away.The clergyman listened sympathetically to her brief history of Ostrom's kindness, then performed a simple ceremony which his wife and daughters witnessed. As they were about to depart he said, "I will send you a certificate."
"Don't trouble yourself to do that," said the groom. "I'll call for it some evening soon."Never had she seen Ostrom in such gay spirits as on their return; and, woman-like, she was happy chiefly because she had made him happy. She also felt a glad sense of security. Her mother's dying wish had been fulfilled; she had now a protector, and would soon have a home instead of a boarding place among strangers.Her husband speedily found the rooms to which the reader has been introduced. The street on which they were located was no thoroughfare. Its farther end was closed by a fence and beyond were fields. With the exception of those who dwelt upon it or had business with the residents, few people came thither. To this locality, Ostrom brought his bride, and selected rooms whose windows were above those of the surrounding houses. So far from regretting this isolation and remoteness from the central life of the town, Alida's feelings sanctioned his choice. The sense of possessing security and a refuge was increased, and it was as natural for her to set about making the rooms homelike as it was to breathe. Her husband appeared to have exhausted his tendencies toward close economy in the choice of apartments, and she was given more money than she desired with which to furnish and decorate. He said, "fix everything up to suit your mind, and I'll be satisfied."This she did with such skill, taste, and good management that she returned a large portion of the sum he had given her, whereupon he laughingly remarked that she had already saved more than she owed him. He seemed disinclined to accompany her in the selection of their simple outfit, but professed himself so pleased with her choice of everything that she was gratified and happy in the thought of relieving him from trouble.Thus their married life began under what appeared to her the most promising and congenial circumstances. She soon insisted on having work again, and her busy fingers did much to increase his income.Alida was not an exacting woman, and recognized from the beginning that her husband would naturally have peculiar ways of his own. Unlike Mrs. Mumpson, she never expatiated on "adaptation," but Ostrom soon learned, with much inward relief, that his wife would accept unquestioningly what appeared to be his habits and preferences. He went early to his place of work, taking the nice little lunch which she prepared, and returned in the dusk of the evening when he always found a warm dinner in readiness. After this, he was ready enough to walk with her, but, as before, chose the least frequented streets. Places of amusement and resort seemed distasteful. On Sundays he enjoyed a ramble in the country as long as the season permitted, and then showed a great disinclination to leave the fireside. For a time he went with her in the evening to church, but gradually persuaded her to remain at home and read or talk to him.
His wife felt that she had little cause to complain of his quiet ways and methodical habits. He had exhibited them before marriage and they were conducive to her absolute sense of proprietorship in him--an assurance so dear to a woman's heart. The pleasures of his home and her society appeared to be all that he craved. At times she had wondered a little at a certain air of apprehensiveness in his manner when steps were heard upon the stairs, but as the quiet days and weeks passed, such manifestations of nervousness ceased. Occasionally, he would start violently and mutter strange words in his sleep, but noting disturbed the growing sense of security and satisfaction in Alida's heart. The charm of a regular, quiet life grows upon one who has a nature fitted for it, and this was true to an unusual degree of Alida Ostrom. Her content was also increased by the fact that her husband was able each month to deposit a goodly portion of their united earnings in a savings bank.Every day, every week, was so like the preceding ones that it seemed as if their happy life might go on forever. She was gladly conscious that there was more than gratitude and good will in her heart. She now cherished a deep affection for her husband and felt that he had become essential to her life.
"Oh, how happy mother would be if she knew how safe and protected I am!" she murmured one March evening, as she was preparing her husband's dinner. "Leaving me alone in the world was far worse to her than dying."At that very moment a gaunt-looking woman, with a child in her arms, stood in the twilight on the opposite side of the street, looking up at the windows.
Chapter 7 From Home to the StreetAs the shadows of the gloomy March evening deepened, Alida lighted the lamp, and was then a little surprised to hear a knock at the door. No presentiment of trouble crossed her mind; she merely thought that one of her neighbors on the lower floors had stepped up to borrow something.
"Come in!" she cried, as she adjusted the shade of the lamp.A tall, thin, pale woman entered, carrying a child that was partly hidden by a thin shawl, their only outer protection against the chill winds which had been blustering all day. Alida looked at the stranger inquiringly and kindly, expecting an appeal for charity. The woman sank into a chair as if exhausted, and fixed her dark hollow eyes on Mrs. Ostrom. She appeared consumed by a terrible curiosity.Alida wondered at the strange chill of apprehension with which she encountered this gaze. It was so intent, so searching, yet so utterly devoid of a trace of good will. She began gently, "Can I do anything for you?"For a moment or two longer there was no response other than the same cold, questioning scrutiny, as if, instead of a sweet-faced woman, something monstrously unnatural was present. At last, in slow, icy utterance, came the words, "So you are--HER!"
"Is this woman insane?" thought Alida. "Why else does she look at me so? Oh, that Wilson would come! I'm sorry for you, my good woman," she began kindly. "You are laboring under some mistake. My husband--""YOUR husband!" exclaimed the stranger, with an indescribable accent of scorn and reproach.
"Yes," replied Alida with quiet dignity. "MY husband will be home soon and he will protect me. You have no right to enter my rooms and act as you do. If you are sick and in trouble, I and my husband--""Please tell me, miss, how he became YOUR husband?"
"By lawful marriage, by my pastor.""We'll soon see how LAWFUL it was," replied the woman, with a bitter laugh. "I'd like you to tell me how often a man can be married lawfully."
"What do you mean?" cried Alida, with a sudden flash in her blue eyes. Then, as if reproaching herself, she added kindly, "Pardon me. I see you are not well. You do not realize what you are saying or where you are. Take a seat nearer the fire, and when Mr. Ostrom comes from his work he'll take you to your friends."All the while she was speaking the woman regarded her with a hard, stony gaze; then replied, coldly and decisively, "You are wrong, miss"--how that title grated on Alida's ears!--"I am neither insane nor drunk. I do know what I am saying and where I am. You are playing a bold game or else you have been deceived, and very easily deceived, too. They say some women are so eager to be married that they ask no questions, but jump at the first chance. Whether deceived or deceiving, it doesn't matter now. But you and he shall learn that there is a law in the land which will protect an honest woman in her sacred rights. You needn't look so shocked and bewildered. You are not a young, giddy girl if I may judge from your face. What else could you expect when you took up with a stranger you knew nothing about? Do you know that likeness?" and she drew from her bosom a daguerreotype.Alida waved it away as she said indignantly, "I won't believe ill of my husband. I--""No, miss," interrupted the woman sternly, "you are right for once. You won't indeed believe ill of YOUR husband, but you'll have to believe ill of MINE. There's no use of your putting on such airs any longer. No matter how rash and silly you may have been, if you have a spark of honesty you'll be open to proof. If you and he try to brazen it out, the law will open both your eyes. Look at that likeness, look at these letters; and I have other proof and witnesses which can't be disputed. The name of the man you are living with is not Wilson Ostrom. His name is Henry Ferguson. I am Mrs. Ferguson, and I have my marriage certificate, and--What! Are you going to faint? Well, I can wait till you recover and till HE comes," and she coolly sat down again.
Alida had glanced at the proofs which the woman had thrust into her hands, then staggered back to a lounge that stood near. She might have fainted, but at that awful moment she heard a familiar step on the stairs. She was facing the door; the terrible stranger sat at one side, with her back toward it.When Ostrom entered he first saw Alida looking pale and ill. He hastened toward her exclaiming, "Why, Lida, dear, what is the matter? You are sick!"
Instinctively she sprang to his arms, crying, "Oh, thank God! You've come. Take away this awful woman!""Yes, Henry Ferguson; it's very proper you should take me away from a place like this."
As the man who had called himself Wilson Ostrom heard that voice he trembled like an aspen; his clasp of Alida relaxed, his arms dropped to his side, and, as he sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands, he groaned, "Lost!""Found out, you mean," was the woman's reply.